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International team tackles cancer
July 2012
by David Hutton  |  Email the author
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PRINCETON, N.J.—Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) is partnering with nearly a dozen universities and research centers from around the globe that have a common focus on advancing the understanding of the human immune system's ability to fight cancer.  
 
The International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON) will be comprised of 10 cancer research institutions: Clinica Universidad Navarra in Pamplona, Spain; the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute (Providence Health & Services) in Portland, Ore.; the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France; Instituto Nazionale per lo Studio e la Cura dei Tumori Fondazione G. Pascale in Naples, Italy; the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md.; the Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center in New York; the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Cancer Research in London; the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam; and finally, the University of Chicago.  
 
A key goal of the collaborative forum is to facilitate the translation of scientific research findings into clinical trials and, eventually, clinical practice. It also will work to further advance innovation in drug discovery and development.
 
"All research projects conducted by the II-ON will be related to the immuno-oncology disease area," says BMS spokeswoman Sarah Koenig. "II-ON integrates innovation from preclinical research, translational science and clinical investigation to focus the right immuno-oncology agents to the right patients."  
 
The use of cell-based immunotherapy to target cancer has been around since the late 1980s. It has only been in recent years that it has yielded results, including BMS' own antibodies Yervoy (ipilimumab) for skin cancer and Erbitux (cetuximab) for metastatic colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer.  
 
Koenig says immuno-oncology is a prioritized area of R&D for BMS, which is already studying a variety of compounds based on the theory of immunotherapy or the immune system's own ability to fight cancer.  
 
"The company is committed to leading advances in this important field of research and is exploring a variety of innovative compounds and immunotherapeutic approaches to help address significant unmet medical needs in a broad range of cancers," she says. "It is expected that BMS will provide funding for specific research projects to be planned and agreed upon, and carried out in collaboration with the II-ON institutions."  
 
The new partnership will develop the principles behind these medicines even further, with research covering a variety of cancer types. The collaboration also could prove to be a windfall of information for the research groups participating.
 
"It will help us move these treatments through clinical trials faster than would otherwise be possible," says Dr. Walter Urba, director of the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at the Providence Cancer Center, which has been engaged in immunotherapy research for 18 years. "We consider immunotherapy as the fourth method of treatment of patients with cancer. People are used to chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, but those all have their limitations."  
 
"We must continue the advancement of this important research, and this network is exactly what is needed," adds Bernie Fox, chief of Providence's Laboratory of Molecular and Tumor Immunology. "While chemotherapy, surgery and radiation can have potent anticancer effects, having the patient's immune system recognize cancer cells is necessary for a patient to be cured. This network will provide us with new treatments designed to boost the immune system's response to cancer."
 
Providence leaders believe their commitment to translational research played a significant part in the invitation from BMS to join the network.  
 
"Translational research is the bench-to-bedside idea of moving a treatment quickly from the lab into the patient," says Fox. "Many of us at Providence were trained at the National Cancer Institute and adopted its mandate of rapidly moving ideas from the laboratory to the patient—and we have the experience to know how to deal with and observe toxicities as they occur."  
 
Rapid translation of well-researched and safe treatments is a goal of the network. The collaboration will allow top researchers around the world to work closely, sharing knowledge and data that will ultimately provide more clinical trials to more patients than ever before.  
 
"This will speed up finding a cure and allow us to provide more effective therapies to patients battling cancer," says Fox.
 
BMS did not disclose the full terms of the agreement with the institutes. Urba did say it would bring millions of dollars in annual research funding to his research team for the next five years.  
 
The BMS effort may be a sign of things to come in medical research as a result of shrinking federal support. The U.S. National Institutes of Health budget has grown slower than the rate of inflation for the last eight years. A researcher's chances of landing an NIH grant have dropped to 18 percent, down from more than 30 percent for several years prior to 2004.  
 


BMS and Tsinghua University in structural biology deal  
 
PRINCETON, N.J.—Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) and Tsinghua University of Beijing, China, announced in May the formation of a multiyear strategic partnership. Under the agreement, BMS will fund research efforts at Tsinghua University's School of Life Sciences to identify and validate novel targets in oncology and immunoscience. The collaboration will also focus on structural biology research, the science of mapping the 3D protein structure of biological molecular targets that could serve as the basis for future drug discovery projects.
 
 
"This is Bristol-Myers Squibb's first discovery collaboration in China and is an example of the company's deepening commitment to the country," said Dr. Francis Cuss, senior vice president of research at the pharma. "We are delighted to be working with Tsinghua University, a world-renowned and highly esteemed research-based academic institution with expertise in target identification and structural biology that will support the discovery of new medicines to fight serious diseases in China and around the world."  
 
Tsinghua University was founded more than a century ago. With the motto of "Self-Discipline and Social Commitment " and the spirit of "Actions Speak Louder than Words," Tsinghua University is dedicated to the well-being of Chinese society and to world development.  
 
"I strongly believe that future cooperation between Tsinghua University and Bristol-Myers Squibb will bring about further-reaching consequences to both organizations, and I wish every success in this cooperation," said Prof. Kejun Kang, vice president of the university.
 
 
Code: E071204

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